I wish it would just go away.
That is a common sentiment everyone’s heard at least once this year thanks to the coronavirus, COVID-19, the global pandemic that’s taken the world by storm since early February. COVID-19 has left a huge and unprecedented impact on modern society.
An article in Brain, Behavior and Immunity states COVID-19 ‘threatens our basic need for connection’ which could have severe impacts on mental health. This is shown by a study carried out in Spain during the lockdown on 3480 people. Of the people who took part, 18% were depressive, 21.6% suffered from anxiety and 15.8% were suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Additionally, many people have lost loved ones or been devastated in other ways.
This is an unsettling and unpredictable time. Life as we know it has changed and shows no signs of going back to normal soon.
Life during lockdown
COVID-19 spread quickly, forcing many countries into lockdown in March 2020, a sudden and abrupt change to the way they lived their lives. Most people went from leaving their homes regularly, to finding themselves cooped up indoors for days with no end in sight (before the easing of restrictions).
It was clear that this level of uncertainty was impacting people in a variety of ways.
According to a UCL COVID-19 Social Study, which surveyed 72,000 people in the UK, up to 60% of people were stressing over the virus and the coronavirus lockdown caused
- a decrease in happiness
- an increase in fear, stress and sadness.
While there were some positives from the study – life satisfaction went up during lockdown – COVID-19 will have a long-lasting impact on the world for years to come.
Life after lockdown
Unemployment has increased in the past months, with forecasters fearing more job losses are yet to come. Lack of income, stress, and fear of the unknown will have a further negative impact on the mental health of many people across the world.
From students graduating university who are entering a shaky job market to the changing nature of work-life, the consensus is that nobody knows what the future holds.
If people feel like they’re no longer in control of their futures, it will take a toll on their mental health.
Other factors contributing to poor mental health include:
- Poor finances
- Food insecurity
- Lack of public services and support groups
- Lack of accommodation,
- Lack of access to in-person mental health services
The Coronavirus Outbreak Psychological Experiences (COPE) study found the global pandemic has triggered poorer mental health, with an increase in 60.8% in people who already suffer from pre-existing mental health conditions and 64.1% in informal carers.
That is a worrying increase, especially when considering that mental health services have been hit hard by the outbreak. People who were already receiving help are struggling, and those who need to seek medical attention may find they have nowhere to turn.
The effect of COVID-19 on children
Children have been affected by the virus badly, with teachers and educational institutes wondering what impact it will have on their mental development. With many children forced to learn from home – while watching the stress of the adults in their lives – it will be a troubling time for them and public health systems will need to account for this going forward.
A parent survey conducted by the charity Young Minds UK found that 67% of parents were concerned about the long-term impact on their children’s mental health, with 77% stating their children already needed mental health support previously. Of the parents who responded to the survey, 66% were concerned about their mental health. That is concerning because it will have a knock-on effect in families and communities all over the world.
One of the upsides during the lockdown was a sense of protection. Most people were confined to one space, providing a sense of comfort and safety. However, that feeling vanished for many people when the easing of restrictions begun.
This fear of catching COVID-19 is now referred to as ‘coronaphobia’, initially a term coined to describe those who panicked in February, it is now a legitimate phobia. It is characterised by increased depression, generalised anxiety, feeling hopeless, suicidal ideation and functional impairments.
It has been made worse by mass employment, large number of deaths and quarantine measures put in place to stem the spread of the virus.
With fears of a second wave, and cases on the rise in parts of Europe, United States and South America, the worry is that this sense of coronophobia will grow.
Impact on mental health services
Mental Health services have always been stretched, with many people unable to receive affordable support. With the current circumstances, it is now even more difficult for people to receive support. Social distancing means medical professionals are seeing patients in different ways (e.g. phone and video calls).
With phone and video calls, issues such as phone phobia and anxiety can arise. Patients may feel their doctors are unable to assess them without being face-to-face.
Additionally, fear of catching the virus may deter patients from seeking help where face-to-face appointments are available.
Things may get worse before they get better, and for now, there should be an increased focus on positive coping strategies.
In the long term, countries across the world may need to look into expanding their mental health care services and making sure people know what is available. Schools and local authorities should be providing children and parents with access to mental health resources.
Authorities need to work on increasing the quality of care available, training more mental health professionals, and encouraging people to engage in information about the virus and each other in a healthy and balanced way. With social distancing still in effect, community-based solutions such as support groups and networks will be helping those who are struggling.
Above all, reassurance and transparency from government and health officials and clarity from researchers and medical professionals will help people can cope with the mental toll of COVID-19.
Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). (2020, May 19). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/managing-stress-anxiety.html
González-Sanguino, C., Ausín, B., Castellanos, M. Á., Saiz, J., López-Gómez, A., Ugidos, C., & Muñoz, M. (2020). Mental health consequences during the initial stage of the 2020 coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) in Spain. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, 87, 172-176. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bbi.2020.05.040
The impact of COVID-19 on mental health: The interactive roles of brain biotypes and human connection. (n.d.). ScienceDirect.com | Science, health and medical journals, full text articles and books. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2666354620300430
Lee, S. A., Jobe, M. C., Mathis, A. A., & Gibbons, J. A. (2020). Incremental validity of coronaphobia: Coronavirus anxiety explains depression, generalized anxiety, and death anxiety. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 74, 102268. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.janxdis.2020.102268
Parent survey reveals widespread concerns about mental health impact of COVID-19 on young people’s mental health. (n.d.). YoungMinds. https://youngminds.org.uk/about-us/media-centre/press-releases/parent-survey-reveals-widespread-concerns-about-mental-health-impact-of-covid-19-on-young-people-s-mental-health/#:~:text=Parents%20and%20carers%20who%20took,increased%20isolation%20and%20young%20people
Public mental health and wellbeing and COVID-19. (n.d.). Local Government Association. https://local.gov.uk/public-mental-health-and-wellbeing-and-covid-19
UK COVID-19 update: How lockdown affected mental health. (2020, July 22). Medscape. https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/934399
What impact has COVID-19 had on mental health services? (n.d.). What impact has Covid-19 had on mental health services?. https://www.rethink.org/news-and-stories/blogs/2020/05/what-impact-has-covid-19-had-on-mental-health-services/